Panic attacks can be sudden and overwhelming. You can begin to feel intense emotional and physical sensations seemingly out of nowhere, and it’s easy to feel like you have completely lost control.
Because of the intense impact they carry, panic attacks can make us feel abnormal or isolated. It’s important to note, though, that if you suffer from panic attacks you are far from alone — up to 40% of the population will have a panic attack at some point in their life, with many of them experiencing them regularly. These attacks are scary, but they are common. If you struggle with panic attacks, it’s important to remind yourself that you have absolutely nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.
First, let’s acknowledge that sometimes a panic attack might arrive totally unexpected. This is completely normal, and you should not feel “weird” if this happens to you. Although the exact cause of these seemingly “random” panic attacks is still unknown, it is expected that certain factors like genetics, major stress, or having a predisposition to stress can all play a role.
How do you know if you’re having a panic attack?
Symptoms of a panic attack can include:
- A pounding or racing heart, sweats, chills, trembling, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, stomach pain, and nausea
- Overwhelming fear and anxiety, particularly but not limited to fear of death or impending doom
If you’re having a panic attack, what should you do?
1. Use deep breathing.
You might find yourself hyperventilating, which could in turn make your other symptoms worse. Try deep breathing, which can lessen the symptoms of your panic attack.
To do this, “Focus on taking deep breaths in and out through your mouth, feeling the air slowly fill your chest, then belly, and then slowly leaving them again. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a second, and then breathe out for a count of four.” Try and breathe into your belly, not your chest, filling your belly with air like an expanding balloon.
2. Acknowledge that what’s happening is a panic attack.
Reminding yourself that you are having a panic attack (and not a heart attack) can help you focus on the fact that this is a temporary sensation. It will pass, and you will be OK. This is especially true if you experience panic attacks somewhat occasionally.
3. Ground yourself.
Ground yourself in the real world to alleviate symptoms of dizziness and detachment. Focus on what you can feel, what you can see, and what you can smell. Force your brain to focus on the tangible.
One specific exercise is finding three things in the room that you can see and going back over these three things over and over again: red teapot, brick wall, pair of high heels, red teapot, brick wall, pair of high heels, and so on. Grounding yourself to physical reality could help part of you escape from your head.
4. Close your eyes.
Closing your eyes can help block out stimuli that might be adding to the overwhelming feelings of your panic attack. This is particularly important if your panic attack was brought on by a trigger.
5. Relax your body.
Try and do a full-body scan, if possible, by attempting to relax each muscle at a time. You can try tensing a muscle in a way such as curling your toes super tight and then letting that tension go to feel a sense of release.
Try and find points of tension in your body and as you inhale, focus on relaxing those points. Common areas might be your jaw or your hunched back.
6. Have a mantra ready.
To get through your panic attack, try using a mantra. The mantra will help you concentrate and get out of your head, all the while providing you with some much-needed self-soothing empowerment. Whatever you choose should make you feel safe, strong, and calm. Examples include:
- “I can get through this.”
- “I won’t give up.”
- “You can do this.”
- “I am calm.”
- “All is well.”
- “You are safe.”
- “This too shall pass.”
Having a panic attack can be scary, but if you equip yourself with the right tools, it might just get a little easier. Above all, remember that you are not alone in feeling this way and that there are countless coping techniques and treatment options for you should you need more help. You got this!
Interested in more mental health tips? Check our our other blog posts